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White-Throated Capuchin Monkey, Cebus capucinus
Photos by Andy Smyth, Photographer. ©

Meet the Family
Name Details
Bananas Female, born at Glasgow Zoopark 02/07/1980.
Scruggs Male, born at Glasgow Zoopark 04/11/1989
Scotty Male, born 22/06/1996
(Parents: Bananas and Scruggs)
Harvey Male, born 03/09/1999
(Parents: Bananas and Scruggs)
Brothers Kept separate from the family
Chico Male, born 10/12/1990
(Parents: Suzy and Percy)
Bobo Male, born 28/10/1992
(Parents: Bananas and Percy)

Glasgow ZooPark has maintained this group since the original pair arrived in 1972. Since then as the majority of births have been of males, they have been moved on to other zoos on maturity.

Black and white markings on the head probably assist recognition of individuals, especially in the shadowy conditions of tropical forest.

They are called Capuchins because of their resemblance to Capuchin Friars who wore a black cap or capuche.

Vibrissae - specialised tactile hairs - on the brows, cheeks, lips and chin.

Prehensile tail - an adaptation to tree living only found in some New World monkeys. Strictly speaking Capuchins have a semi-prehensile tail unlike, for example, Spider monkeys.

Their eyes are at the front of the head as in humans, allowing stereoscopic vision (depth perception), a big advantage in judging distances between branches. Widely spaced nostrils - pointing sideways are typical of New World primates.
The nostrils of humans point forwards, indicating we are Old World primates.
Capuchin's fingers and toes are flexible and able to grasp which is a characteristic of all primates.


All of the capuchin monkeys possess a fifth limb, a prehensile tail, and come from the tropical rainforests of South America. However, the Tropics of South America extend over a vast area and many countries, so, not only are there several species, but several races, within each species, especially of the black and white capuchins.

All of the founder animals (or ancestors) of the three main captive groups of white-throated capuchins in UK zoos were acquired in the early to mid-1970s. That means they are almost certainly of Columbian origin as, according to dealers we have discussed this with, that is where the imports were coming from at that time. To this day, exporting wildlife to obtain currency which, in turn, can be used to finance arms or drug deals is a common occurrence, though hardly in the spirit of modern-day conservation.

Our original pair, which we acquired in 1972, consisted of an adult male, Rio, and a sub-adult female, Suzy. Once Susy matured, she started breeding, producing one young every three years or so. The vast majority were males, which substantially inhibited our attempts to build up a group. The first youngster, Tich’ was hand-reared by keeper, Jim Kay, and the subject of a detailed account in our Annual Report and ‘Ratel’, the journal of the Association of British Wild Animal Keepers (ABWAK). We managed to integrate Tich back with his parents early on, once hand-rearing was complete. To this day, it is regretted that when he started to be picked on by Rio a few years later, we sent Tich and a younger brother to another collection instead of setting him up with another group.

When Rio suddenly died of a heart-attack in the late 80s, we were lucky enough to be able to offer a home to the breeding male belonging to Lord and Lady Fisher at Kilverstone Wildlife Park in Norfolk. This male had been kept on an island (constructed out of a field by the simple expedient of digging large trenches with a digger, then letting them fill with water!) with a group of females. As with a number of the capuchins owned by Lady Fisher, he had been hand-reared. He had as a result no fear of, or respect for, human beings, including his keeper, which was unfortunate. When she waded out to the island one day to feed the capuchins, he attacked her, injuring her severely on face and hands. A new home became a necessity.

Although cages are often thought of as a necessary evil, this need not necessarily be the case. For many animals, including birds, a cage is home, to which they return voluntarily for security and food after they have been let out to roam at liberty for a while. To a zoo manager, a cage, be it wire or glass-sided, is also safe. It may not be as aesthetically pleasing as an island, but it is safe and the animals within can be controlled, separated, moved, treated, and cannot get at you, should they turn aggressive. Accordingly, we had no hesitation in offering a home to the Kilverstone male, Percy, especially as he had produced several offspring of his own and was thus a ‘proved’ breeder.

Percy arrived sporting a luxurious, shaggy coat of black and white, the result of several winters on an island with little or no heating. Several years on he still possessed a thick coat, although nowhere near the magnificence of those first few months, and for this we can blame our centrally-heated Small Primate House. Ultra-thick coat or no Percy lets us know in no uncertain manner exactly what he thinks of those humans he knows, which is not much. He fluffs his coat out, grimaces and stares and warns you to keep away from his preserve. No-one would every want to meet him on an island! Every time he carries out his threat ritual, the author thinks back to zoo conferences in the 1970s hosted by London Zoo, when Lady Fisher kept hurrying from the room clasping the handle of a towel-covered wicker shopping basket to attend to a tiny black and white shape wrapped round a hot-water bottle, wailing for its milk, and wonders whether his first view of the ‘muscular menace’ in front of him had been one of those mewling blobs.
In 1993 when Glasgow Zoo hit its real cash crisis, and the animal collection and staff had to be reduced, half of the capuchin group went down to the Cricket St Thomas Wildlife Park, near Chard in Somerset. The remainder have continued to breed from time to time, still producing males predominantly. Our capuchins, under the T.L.C. of keeper Moira Baird, receive a very enriched diet. Not only do we feed a complete pelleted food but many additional food items on a constantly changing basis. It may well be that this very high nutritional plane is stimulating a constant production of males and, theoretically, we could - and should - find this out. To tell you the truth, though, none of us has the desire to fiddle about with, or restrict, the diet of a group of monkeys which, to us, are far more than a group of experimental animals, but recognisable and highly individual characters, each and every one.


When visiting the Capuchin monkeys it may be of some help to consider the following notes on their body movements an an aid to understanding them:

Look at: Interest; mild threat

Glance at: looking quickly or repeatedly at the dominant member of the group can spark conflict. It can also be a means of receiving reassurance from the dominant member.

Lie on back: Common during rough play. It indicates accessability and promotes contact between group members.

Presentation of Back or Chest to Another Members' Face: To sit facing or lying down with back toward another is commn during grooming.

Head Shake:

  • Motivation: conflict
  • Function: appeasement
  • Display Posture: Standing on ALL FOURS with back slightly arched.

  • Motivation: Challenged
  • Function: Threat
  • Bounce: Bouncing is a way of returning a mild threat.

    Branch Shake: Branch shaking is a way of asserting dominance, but can also occur when feeling threatened. It is a medium-high threat.

    IT'S NOT EASY BEING WEE...

    by Laura Rennie

    Harvey, our baby White-throated capuchin is growing up fast. At 6 months old (March 2000) he is more or less off mum; Bananas' back, and exploring things by himself.
    Things should be easy for him... investigating branches, discovering insects, sitting in the water dish (whilst there's still water in it...) and passing time by having a good poke around inside dad Scruggs' nose. But just when he thought the going was easy - BAM! Big brother Scotty (4) is on the case to make things difficult! Poor little Harvey has had to take a crash course in climbing and hanging on to things, as Scotty likes to wait patiently whilst his baby brother masters the art of climbing across a branch and then grabs him by the tail and tries to pull him off!

    But don't be worried by this behaviour - it's perfectly natural. It's not just us humans who terrorise their wee brothers! If Scotty is even a tiny bit too rough with the baby, Scruggs is usually the first to step in and give him a quick clip round the ear.

    Scotty got a shock the other week though when he was tormenting Harvey. The sneaky wee baby turned round and bit his brother on the tail with his brand new needle sharp baby teeth! Nose put firmly out of joint and tail throbbing, Scotty ran to his mum for comfort. Bananas however, let him stew for a good ten minutes before inspecting and grooming his tail.

    It's quite hard being a baby monkey, with lots of new thing to discover and figure out, like what is a worm, and what are you supposed to do with it?
    Often when it's been raining, I'll go out and collect a dish full of thick juicy worms and offer them to the group, who all come down and pick out one or two, retire to a branch and munch away. Harveys first worm gave him a bit of a shock. He watched everyone else pick and eat their worm, and as 'monkey see monkey do', he carefully made his way down to the enclosure floor and put his hand out to pick up a worm from the dish.
    He picked out a huge thick bloodsucker - the kind that's all dark red at the end - and started to bring it towards his mouth. Well, just as he did this, the worm wriggled and extended out to about twice its size and gave the wee man the fright of his life! He dropped it on the floor and opened his mouth in the typical capuchin teeth-baring threat stance, (except he didn't really have a lot of teeth at the time, but I'm sure the worm was terrified!) and started squealing at it. The worm proceeded to slide up and onto his foot and he just sat there, terrified and squeaking away until Bananas came down, picked him up and scoffed the worm. Needless to say, he hasn't had another one since!

    Things should get better for him now he can bite Scotty and fight back a bit, and of course mum's always there to run to when it all gets too much.

    Watch out for the youngsters antics during the summer, as we will be constructing a rope play-area within the outside enclosure using the rope which The Royal Navy at Faslane kindly gave us, with swings and tyres. I can only imagine the trouble those two will cause...!